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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Misplaced Modifiers
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1796  Wednesday, 18 July 2001

[1]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 15:39:44 -0500
        Subj:   Must die once

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 17:43:25 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1772 Misplaced Modifiers


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 15:39:44 -0500
Subject:        Must die once

In SHK 12.772, Larry Weiss takes "once" to be misplaced from its place
after "meditating"

Despite Larry's citation of the brave who only die once, I have always
taken "once" to mean in this context and syntax  "at one time or
another" in which case the link between "once" and "now" is very
strong.  If "once" modifies "meditating", it would mean that at one time
he meditated on Portia's future death.  Brutus is too much the
philosopher to meditate only once on such an important issue in his
personal life.  I want to leave the text alone.  I have not consulted
OED or a concordance s.v. "once", but think Sh uses "once" in the sense
"sometime or other" elsewhere in the canon.

Cheers for textual cruces,
John

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 17:43:25 -0400
Subject: Misplaced Modifiers
Comment:        SHK 12.1772 Misplaced Modifiers

Larry Weiss asks:

> In JC, IV.iii.190-92 Brutus asserts this unconvincing stoic posturing in
> response to Messala's redundant disclosure of Portia's death:  (Pace
> John Velz, who still remains convinced that this is an uncanceled draft,
> not a deliberate revelation of Brutus as a political creature.)
>
>     Why, farewell Portia.  We must die Messala.
>     With meditating that she must die once,
>     I have the patience to endure it now.
>
> Wouldn't most of the high school teachers on the List mark down a
> freshman composition student for the offense of misplacing "once,"
> especially so ambiguously.  It is clear that Brutus means that he once
> contemplated that Portia would die so he is now fortified against the
> reality.  He doesn't mean that he was thinking that Portia would die
> only once. but the speech allows that construction, especially in light
> of Caesar's speech about cowards dying thousands of times and the
> valiant only once.
>
> The meter is just as good if the line read:
>
>     With meditating once that she must die
>
> The only thing lost is the end-of-line appositions of "once" and "now";
> but it seems to me that the meaning is just as strong if the opposed
> words don't scan in the same places, and the risks of mishearing or
> misconstruing are far less.
>
> Was the Bard nodding?  Can we think of any other instances of
> Shakespeare misplacing a modifier for poetic purposes and creating a
> conflict in sense?

I am sure that there are constructions in Shakespeare that could be
considered misplaced modifiers, but I do not agree that this is one of
them.  The adverbial of time, 'once', is placed at the end of the line
to emphasize that Brutus thought this entire thought at one time in the
past and may, therefore, be stoic in his sorrow, now. The word is
deliberately placed in the parallel position with the adverbial of time
in the next line ('now'). I don't see this as a problem, but rather as a
skilled rhetorical construction.

Paul E. Doniger

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